Briefing by Minister Mlambo-Ngcuka on the National Nuclear Regulator Bill

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Mineral Resources and Energy

18 October 1999
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Meeting report

18 October  1999

The Minister of Minerals and Energy gave her position on the National Nuclear Regulator Bill. Representatives were then invited from the Council for Nuclear Safety, National Union of Mineworkers and Chamber of Mines to add to the Minister's comments.  Clause by clause deliberations would occur the next day.

Briefing by Minister of Minerals and Energy Affairs
The Minister of Minerals and Energy Affairs, Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka, explained that she thought that both the National Nuclear Regulator Bill and the Nuclear Energy Bill are positive steps forward in separating the regulator and promotional functions.  In addition, Minister Mlambo-Ngcuka believes that the individuals who become Regulators need to be able to enjoy the confidence of the people of South Africa.  The Regulators must represent the interests of the stakeholders in the communities and they should be subject to the laws of the land. 

Minister Mlambo-Ngcuka has looked at countries whose policies are similar to those of South Africa’s but do not have a structure where individuals are accountable to the President.  She has also looked specifically at the United States.  However, as they have much more nuclear power, it would not be possible to emulate their system.  Through these international investigations, the Minister feels that, as it stands now in the Bills, the current scenario is appropriate for South Africa. The position is that the Regulator will report to the Minister of Minerals and Energy.  Concerns had been raised previously that this was not an appropriate channel of authority and a different authority, such as the Deputy President's Office or Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, should be considered.

Questions by members
Mr Davidson (DP) asked the Minister to clarify the structure in reporting to the Departments.

Minister Mlambo-Ngcuka explained that the Regulator would first report to the Department of Minerals and Energy, which will then consult the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism especially if there is disagreement among the stakeholders.

Another member asked whether or not it is still proposed that the members of the Regulatory Board include people from different sectors.

Minister Mlambo-Ngcuka responded that they are striving for a board that is widely representative.  All people should feel confident that their concerns are being addressed.  The Minister feels that the Board should be made up of people who have nothing to gain from the industry so that they can be as objective as possible.

Mr Davidson (DP) asked a follow up question regarding whether or not there is a trigger mechanism available that automatically forces the Department of Minerals and Energy to consult with the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism if there is dissatisfaction from a stakeholder.

The Minister answered that there was currently no trigger mechanism in place but she would look into whether or not it could be created.

Ms Dudley (ACDP) asked how the Regulator would be appointed and how does the process ensure transparency.

Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka explained that individuals would be nominated from virtually everywhere, that list will then be put through a process of short listing.  The Minister will then take the short list to Cabinet and a final decision will be made.

The Chairperson, Mr Mohamed (ANC), addressed two questions to the Minister.  He first wanted to know the Minister’s opinion on the list that the Committee had drafted for the Regulator.  In addition, Mr Mohamed raised the concern that in the future, South Africa may be forced to use nuclear energy on a larger scale.  He wondered whether or not there would ever be a question of having to choose between energy supply and nuclear safety.

The Minister agreed that the Committee’s list was helpful but she added that there was more that needed to be done before a Regulator is chosen.  They need to find a balance between having the public’s confidence, understanding technical issues, policy issues and safety. 

In addressing Mr Mohamed’s second concern, the Minister said that she hopes that South Africa is never faced with having to rely on nuclear energy as a dominant supply.  She hoped that all other solutions would be considered before that ever happened.  It would be such an important decision that she expected that the Government at the time would consult absolutely everyone.

Mr Davidson (DP) asked what would happen if there was a difference of opinion between the Departments of Minerals and Energy and Environmental Affairs and Tourism.

The Minister responded that there would be different layers of authority in case of this situation and the higher levels could be called in.

Another member asked the Minister to explain the relationship between the Inspector of Mines and the Regulator.

The Minister explained that the Bill should make it possible for the two positions to co-operate with each other.  The Regulator must be able to look into issues of authorisation with the Inspectorate looking at the safety and health of the same target group. 

Comments by Council for Nuclear Safety (CNS)
Mr J. Leaver, General Manager of CNS, felt that because the Regulator is not part of the debate process of this Bill, everyone is losing out.

He moved on to talk about the International Convention on Nuclear Safety that has been ratified by 52 countries.  He explained that the variation in the countries shows that safety does not have to do with the size of the nuclear industry, and to say that, he believes, is very misleading.  However, all of the countries are moving towards individual reporting lines.  CNS would like to see South Africa among the leaders of independent reporting lines.  Mr Leaver also pointed to another international document from the International Atomic Energy Agency concerning legal and government infrastructure, which he feels, has not been enshrined in this Bill.

In addition, CNS believes that where the regulatory body has two parts, it is going to be very difficult.  They would recommend shying away from this unless there are appropriate checks and balances put into place.  If this were to happen there would need to be more consideration.

Finally, CNS feels that they were not given enough consideration throughout the drafting and debate of the National Nuclear Regulator Bill and that much more consideration of the legislation needs to be done.

Minister's response to CNS
Minister Mlambo-Ngcuka did not feel that the CNS is right in saying that it is unfortunate that the Regulator is not involved in the debates. 

She went on to say that South Africa could not always be compared with other countries because of South Africa’s history of Apartheid.  The previous regime has effected the way the industry is set up now and that cannot be forgotten.

Department of Minerals and Energy's response to CNS
Mr Nogxina stated that all reasonable attempts to include CNS in the legislation process were made.  In addition, Mr Nogxina said that he is familiar with the document described by CNS and he feels that it addresses regulator reporting lines and he does feel that it has been followed.

Comments by National Union of Mineworkers (NUM)
Mr B. Barry believed it was time that a proper debate on the proposed nuclear legislation take place.  He hopes that the debates will happen this week between Government and the three major stakeholders. In addition, he added that the legislation was formulated in a tense atmosphere and it should not have gotten in the way of important legislation.

Concerning the issue of independence, Mr Barry said that it is important to focus on the reporting line and who has the decision-making power.  NUM feels that the true nature of power is what is important.

Finally, NUM proposed setting up an advisory forum where the public could voice their concerns about nuclear power in South Africa.

Minister's response to NUM
The Minister did not want to respond to the idea of the advisory forum right away since it was a new idea, she wanted to think about it first. She promised to give it some time and get back to NUM.  Since the other concerns were not new she did not address them at this time.

Comments by the Chamber of Mines (COM)
Mr D. Wynaard claimed that COM was in agreement with the comments made by the Minister.  He believes that CNS stretched things by implying that it is not permissible for the Regulator to report to the Minister.  COM believes that it is sensible for the same Minister to resolve a conflict of interest.  There must be a balance between the interests of all parties and this can be done by the Minister.  COM feels that this is consistent with what is happening around the world. 

In addition, COM proposes that consultation should go beyond the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and into other departments like the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. 

Finally, Mr Wynaard brought up the issue of Co-operative Government.  He feels that it still needs to be properly addressed.  In addition, COM would support a public advisory forum.

The Minister decided not to comment on the submission from COM since they did not bring up any new material.

Concluding comments by Chairperson
Before adjourning the meeting, the Chairperson expressed the reason the stakeholders were allowed to participate in proceedings that are normally reserved for members only.  Since there has been so much controversy over the nuclear energy legislation, the stakeholders have been allowed to participate in this week's deliberation.  He reminded all members and stakeholders that amendments to the legislation would be accepted no later than Wednesday at the latest.

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